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A CurtainUp Berkshire Opera Review
Talk about the show must go on grit! At the Berkshire Opera Company it applies to the company as well as the performers.
The Berkshire Opera Company's history is the stuff of impossible dreams come true. After years of bringing fine singers, first to the now gone chapel at Cranwell and then to the Koussevitzky Arts Center at Berkshire Community College, BOC bought the Mahaiwe Theater in Great Barrington in order to have an orchestra pit that would make it possible to mount larger operas. Unfortunately, while Maestro Joel Revzen's orchestra and the BOC singers had good timing musically speaking, the timing of the expansion proved to be another matter. The economic climate changed on the heels of the Mahaiwe purchase and with it the revenues, bringing BOC's steady upward and onward march to a near halt. But true to the can-do, the show must go on spirit, the little opera company made the best of things with more limited seasons of semi-staged operas once again presented in rented homes.
With the area's own diva, the lovely Maureen O'Flynn, starring in the company's summer 2003 main event, a semi-staged concert presentation of La Traviata, economic necessity actually became an asset. With just a few props and superb acting as well as singing, music lovers had a chance to appreciate a grand opera's adaptability to greater intimacy.
Happily, while the BOC is still in a belt-tightning mode, O'Flynn is back as another ill-fated Verdi heroine, the hunchbacked Rigoletto's love-smitten daughter Gilda. As if to test the little opera's perseverance in the face of trouble to its utmost limits, both O'Flynn and tenor Michael R. Myers (the Duke of Mantua) were attacked by throat problems on the eve of Rigoletto's opening. Except for the throat soothing pitcher and glass of water added to the props at the Monday matinee I attended, OFlynn's and Myers' performances went off without a hitch. The audience's thunderous applause was proof that no one felt -- or should have felt-- shortchanged by Gilda's passionate "Caro nome" and Myers' mellifluous " La donna mobile" (just two of the gorgeous arias that have endeared Rigoletto to opera lovers through the years.
With Joel Revzen and his orchestra right behind the performers and props (you could hardly call the black boxes and pieces used to suggest walls and the occasional chair a set), the stage of the Koussevitzky Arts Center never seems under-populated. And given the orchestra's excellence and the splendid voices singing Verdi's thrilling arias, this Rigoletto offered two and a half thoroughly satisfying hours of music.
The acting overall was fine. Mr. Myers' is not as natural and appealing an actor as Ms. O'Flynn who, when a bottle of water rolled off a table, she quickly and gracefully picked it up as if this were intentional rather than a minor mishap. The tall, powerfully built Gregg Baker hardly fits the image of the hunchbacked title character but his powerhouse baritone was magnificent. Like O'Flynn he has great stage presence and met the challenge of Gina Lapinski's directing him to enter from the sloped steps of the aisles not once but three times.
While the staging was minimal, the production did include a male chorus which sang lustily and enhanced the first scene. Too bad the director felt it necessary to have a long intra-scene pause to have stagehands noisily move some of those very basic props on and off stage. This seemed to call unnecessary attention to the minimalism of the staging. When you do this kind of scenery-less production, it's best to keep things super simple.
All in all, this Rigoletto is well worth seeing, and if you miss it in Pittsfield, you have several more chances to catch it at Williams College's Chapin Hall. BOC is also offering another intriguing evening of three one-act operas at the Lee High School Auditorium: A Hand of Bridge with music by Samuel Barber and libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti; Game of Chance with music by Seymour Barabr and libretto by Evelyn Manacher and Trouble in Tahiti with music and libretto by Leonard Bernstein.
LINKS Review of Summer '94 Concert Staging of La Traviata.
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